The frescoes on the walls of buildings at Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae have been divided into four chronological styles, called “Pompeian Styles” because the classifications were made at Pompeii. The four types are as follows:

First Pompeian Style, 4th century B.C. to c. 80 B.C.

Characterized by walls decorated with imitation slabs of colored marble. Sometimes the “joins” are represented in raised and molded stucco. Gradually, simple ornamental details were added, such as cornices and garlands, and sometimes figures were even represented. The origins of the first style are uncertain, but the “masonry” technique was used in Greece by the end of the fourth century B.C. and it was common in the houses of Campanian merchants on the island of Delos in the second century B.C.

Second Style, c. 80 B.C. to c. 20 B.C.

Like a stage set, simulates three-dimensional architecture by showing colonnades with broken pediments (usually a central aedicule, or shrine, with flanking wings) in a receding space of gardens and shrines.

Third Style, c. 30 B.C. to c. 60 A.D.

Illusionism is rejected in favor of flat patterns. The columnar motifs are gradually reduced to spindly reed-like columns or linear borders framing monochromatic panels, usually retaining the Second Style rhythm of a central panel with two lateral panels. A large painting from mythology usually dominates the central panel; the side panels often have small isolated flying figures on a monochromatic background.

Fourth Style, c. 60 to 79 A.D.

Some illusionism is reintroduced, with depictions of reed-column architecture or candelabras. The monochromatic panels often have either an isolated figure or a small scene, framed like a painting, in the center. In the simplest version of the style (often just linear motifs on a white ground), the walls are reduced to linear patterns of alternating wide and narrow panels.—T.N.H.